The Greater Washington Board of Trade's annual summer-jobs-for-youth campaign may prove to be the most challenging in the 18-year history of the project.
Although the Washington area has felt the impact of previous recessions, the local economy remained fairly stable until last year. Now there is general agreement among government and business leaders that significant changes in the local economy have destroyed the myth that metropolitan Washington is recession-proof.
With persistent high unemployment--particularly in the District--and downturns in other sectors of the economy, the board and cosponsors of the campaign may find it difficult to convince employers to increase labor costs by adding temporary employes.
Geoffrey Edwards, chairman of the board's task force on summer jobs, may have overstated the efficacy of the organization's new strategy for this year's campaign when he described it as "an exciting new direction."
He was referring to the board's decision to forego its traditional "boiler room" job solicitation operation in favor of a new role as a clearinghouse for job information. Area businesses are being encouraged to give job availability information to placement agencies in their respective jurisdictions.
"This way, we step out of the middleman's role," said John Tydings, the board's executive vice president.
Still, Edwards was on target when he observed that the campaign's "eventual success depends ENTER AREA 05on every area businessperson looking closely at his or her firm's operation to find meaningful jobs for young people this summer."
That could prove troublesome. Several executives of major companies based in the area already have indicated concern over economic conditions and, indeed, some have predicted this will be a "difficult" year.
And for good reason. Recent published reports show that, on a regional basis, retailers lost $100 million in sales last year and that unemployment increased 15.7 percent, leaving 81,000 persons out of work.
Analyses by area economists and government agencies indicate that little relief from those trends can be expected soon. For example, the District's Department of Employment Services reported earlier this month that preliminary estimates indicate there were 12,700 fewer jobs in metropolitan Washington in February than a year earlier.
The department compiles and ENTER AREA 13reports labor market information for all of metropolitan Washington. Its latest report shows that government employment, for example, decreased by 20,800 jobs over the past year, 13,700 of them in the federal sector.
Current economic conditions . . . and reductions in the federal government work force combine to exert downward pressure on the level of total employment in the area," the department's Division of Labor Market Information, Research and Analysis, concluded recently.
The problem, then, for the Board of Trade and area chambers of commerce is how to persuade business to hire 16- to 21-year-olds when the job market is flooded with unemployed adults. The issue looms even more complex in view of the board's effort in spearheading a drive to assist the more than 4,000 riffed federal employes.
"I think it is a challenge," Tydings said. "I think it's fair to say that the minds of business people in the Washington area are not unlike the minds of those in other parts of the country."
However, after only a week, "there is nothing factual that would indicate gloom and doom ahead" for this ENTER AREA 14year's summer jobs program, Tydings said.
Neither is there enough feedback at this point to indicate how many jobs employers will pledge this year, he added.
More important, however, Tydings said, the summer jobs campaign hasn't become an anachronism. "The business community has a strong feeling to expose young people to the free-enterprise system," he remarked.
What's more, Tydings maintains, there is no evidence that young people are vying with breadwinners for the same jobs.
While it's true that breadwinners aren't likely to compete with teen-agers for jobs in fast-food restaurants, for example, the question is how many employers can afford to add to their staffs in the current economic environment.